Yearbook Highlights for The Seminole, 1957
Katie Bonevento, Megan Morich, and Hanna Walters
A subset of a larger cultural context, college campuses interact with societal trends while also providing a distinct place for transition and development. Through its images and textual descriptions, The 1957 Seminole serves as a “volume of history,” providing a glimpse into both college life at the University of Florida and the broader American experience during the 1950s. By reading descriptions of individual accomplishments in sections such as “Administration” and “Features,” we see the depictions of campus life become personal—with the larger trends shown by the yearbook’s collection of individual experiences. This 1957 Seminole documents how students formed and expressed their identities, showing a wide array of social and academic activities that students participated in (some of which still exist today). Additionally, the pages show how students engaged with cultural expectations and popular forms of entertainment. A variety of festivals and pep rallies were held throughout the year, ranging from the still-ongoing Gator Growl during homecoming weekend to now-forgotten events like the Fall and Spring Frolics. There were parades, dances, pageants, skits, and concerts. Other student activities included “coffee hours, art exhibits, movies… and various recreation activities” hosted by the Union Board, as well as “cultural and educational entertainment” like plays courtesy of the Lyceum Board. The campus Lecture Series hosted speakers, including poet Robert Frost. The Gator football team enjoyed a successful season, with a 6-1-3 record; a variety of intramural sports involved both male and female students. The yearbook’s Foreword describes how the editors tried to document the multifaceted nature of the college experience, emphasizing the idea of development and progress along a continuous spectrum, as “Admittedly, the journey is not yet over.” The yearbook’s various sections reflect both cultural changes and continuities, providing a snapshot of a historical moment and redefining how one might see progress.
Gender Roles (Katie Bonevento)
In keeping with popular perceptions of the decade, the 1957 Seminole demonstrates that traditional gender roles had a powerful influence on UF students. Men and women were divided in many ways. Dorms and most student organizations were segregated by sex, and while Robert C. Beaty served as the Dean of Student Personnel, a separate dean and sole female administrator (Marna V. Brady) oversaw female students. Men were overrepresented in student leadership positions as well. The student Hall of Fame consisted of 33 students, only 6 of which were women. Male Hall of Fame students were described with epithets that emphasized their talents or ambitions, like “crusading journalist,” a politician above politics,” or “a big man for a big job” (57-58). But women Hall of Fame students were characterized by their looks or relationship status: Barbara Lee Barnwell was noted as being “lovely… [and] engaged,” Jo Anne Couse was described as a “shy, sincere, extremely capable blonde” (57-58), and Billie Winslow Rouse was called a “titian-haired lovely” (61). Twice in the yearbook, images of women’s legs in fishnet tights appear as filler images on section header pages; nowhere in the book are men objectified in a similar way.
However, there is one particular page in the yearbook that indicates pushback against these stereotypical gender roles. The Seminole writers describe the annual Sigma Chi Derby Weekend as “the highlight of the sorority season,” because women get to leave behind “Rush Weekends, formals, and dinner dates” in favor of “potato sacks, tug-o-war, and pies (both mud and custard).” Pictured on the page are two sorority girls covered in mud and smiling brightly. The description of the sheer joy these women take in stepping outside the expectation to be traditionally feminine and enjoying a weekend of fun, messy activities suggests that they may feel stifled by the roles they are forced into.
Popular Culture (Katie Bonevento)
The 1957 Seminole yearbook showcases a many aspects of student life at the University of Florida, including popular culture and entertainment. Students expressed their opinions on contemporary popular culture both in the yearbook itself, and through the activities it describes. For example, on a page describing the Fall Frolics festival, Seminole writers present their thoughts on the musical artists that performed at the event: Art Mooney and his band were “nice but nothing special,” and “Cathy Carr shouldn’t have been allowed on stage.” Other musical artists enjoyed greater levels of popularity among the student body. Elvis Presley was featured prominently in a number of Gator Growl skits (including the one pictured). And Louis Armstrong was brought to campus by the Interfraternity Council in what the Seminole writers felt was one of the organization’s few “worthwhile projects” (217). The popularity of rock and jazz musicians like Presley and Armstrong, in comparison to pop performers like Mooney and Carr, provides a snapshot of the shifting musical tastes among college-age youth in 1956.
The yearbook also reveals much about the influence of popular films and television shows on the UF student body. Along with Elvis, Gator Growl skits parodied The Ed Sullivan Show (as the “Ned O’Sullivan Show”), The Jackie Gleason Show (as the “Whacky Gleason Show”), and the 1956 horror film The Bad Seed. A float in the Homecoming Parade is decorated with the phrase “A Star is Born,” a possible reference to the 1954 version of the film starring Judy Garland and James Mason. These examples indicate that referential humor that played on popular music, television shows, and movies was popular among students in 1956 and 1957, much as it is today.
Fashion (Hanna Walters)
In the late 1950s, many people were beginning to feel more freedom in their fashion choices. The 1957 edition of The Seminole didn’t speak directly on fashion trends, but it depicted several popular trends at the time.
Long skirts that go down to the shin with a cinched-in waist (often belted) and flowy blouses or sweaters appear throughout the yearbook. However, a new trend seemed to be emerging for both sexes: walking shorts. Bermuda shorts and knee socks were considered a new fad, for both women and men, and “produced mixed emotions.”
The Beauty section (79-94) features an array of gowns and dresses on participants in the beauty competitions. For the most part, the gowns accentuated the waist and created an hourglass figure; the long skirts flowed to or past the ankle. Some of the women even featured long, fancy evening gloves in their glamour shots.
Leisure wear for men became popular in the 1950’s; however, for us today their look screams “business casual.” Throughout the 1957 Seminole, men are mainly seen wearing slacks and button-down shirts. Occasionally, we see them wearing t-shirts, but that was usually for sporting events or relaxing in their dorms. For more formal events like socials, balls, and frolics, the men wore suits.
Social Life (Hanna Walters)
The Social Life section of the 1957 Seminole mainly featured fraternities and sororities, most of which still exist today. Each Greek organization receives its own pages that features the president, vice president, a group photo, and then a snippet of their highlights, honors, accomplishments, and antics. For instance, the honors for the annual Homecoming decoration contest went to Delta Tau Delta for their “3D alligator eating an Auburn tiger.” The Sigma Chi’s were concerned about a beloved live oak tree being cut down; although the action was inevitable, the Seminole writers stated that the fraternity “put up a gallant fight.” While the fraternity pages seemed to mainly highlight sports accomplishments and parties, the sorority pages highlighted community service and outreach.
Besides joining a fraternity and sorority, UF students had many ways to participate in the social scene. There were annual Fall and Spring Frolics in which there was a concert, performances, and a seasonal dance for the student body. According to 1957 Seminole writers, the Fall Frolic “could not in any fashion or form be called a success,” but that year’s Spring Frolic made up for the Fall failure. Another event one could attend was sponsored by The ROTC, the Military Ball, where students could enjoy music and dancing plus see a beautiful queen be crowned. There was the annual Mrs. University of Florida contest, and for men there was the annual King Ugly Contest.
Technology (Megan Morich)
The 1957 edition of The Seminole shows how students interacted with technology for instructional purposes, emphasizing the Foreword’s stated purpose of “portraying the University as it has followed the path of Progress.” As we see this yearbook, students in the engineering and physics departments had access to a Van-de-Graaff Accelerator and a vacuum system for instructional purposes. The College of Engineering also worked with the Experimental Station, touted as “one of the best research labs in the South.” Similarly, students in the School of Journalism and Communications worked on WRUF, UF’s radio station, to gain practical knowledge through interaction with technology. The yearbook proclaims that “WRUF has become one of the leading educational radio stations in the south,” showing how campus pride is tied to innovative instructional methods and access to technology.
The yearbook also documents the evolving nature of technology in instruction, stating that “This is the first year that the University of Florida has used television for classroom training and education purposes.” Reflecting the rise of television in the 1950s, students in the School of Journalism and Communication learned how to produce and film content for television, increasing their experience with modern broadcasting media. Television was also used as a way of instructing students “when lecture sections [were] too large for either one room or individual instruction.” In this way, technology provided a means of accommodating increasing enrollment during the 1950s. The yearbook also documents the importance of using evolving technology to support academic programs such as the new medical school. The building and labs provided increased opportunities for growth, allowing the College of Medicine to fulfill “its role in the pageant of progress that is the University of Florida.”
Domesticity (Megan Morich)
Contained in two major sections titled “Men’s Dorms” and “Girls’ Dorms” respectively, the photographs of dorm rooms in the 1957 Seminole provide a glimpse at college domesticity. Notably, the residential experience of male and female students is depicted in a different manner. In the “Men’s Dorms” section, male students engage in social activities (including a shaving cream fight and a game of Blackjack). Contrasting with these rowdy activities, female students converse and adorn their dorms with Christmas decorations. These female students align more with the role of married housewife than male students with that of breadwinner, as they engage in a form of college homemaking while male students primarily engage in independent social activities. The only presence of decorating we see in the male dorms appears in an image of pinup images hanging on a wall; here the sexual connotations provide a departure from the traditionally feminine pursuit of home decoration.
There is also a greater emphasis on dating in the “Girls’ Dorms” section; we see male students waiting in the lobby for their dates. While male students have a presence in female dorms, the only female presence in male dorms is through pinup images. This disparity reflects a smaller degree of mobility for female students. We can also see the uneven power dynamic between male and female students in the yearbook editors’ names for these sections. While male students reside in “Men’s Dorms” and are thus considered independent adults, female students live in “Girls’ Dorms,” implying a lesser degree of presumed capability.
With marriage expected at a young age during the 1950s, many students would graduate from the transitional domesticity of dorm life to forming domestic partnerships and nuclear families. However, some students made this transition prior to graduation. The second annual Mrs. University of Florida contest was held in 1957, with thirty-one contestants participating. This pageant shows evidence of a substantive number of married students, justifying an additional beauty pageant to the Miss University of Florida competition.